History of Nursing & Practical Nursing

Nursing hasn’t always been an acceptable job, in fact, it was once a job given to convicts because it was considered such a low-class and meaningless job. Through the past few hundred years, the role of nurses have changed immensely, as has the acceptance of nursing as a desirable job.

Nursing through the ages… Or eras.

Dark Ages: In the dark ages, there were no established nurses. Most care was given through family or friends.

Middle ages: Around this time, hospitals were first established and began being built. These hospitals are not like modern-day ones as they were seen as a place to go to die; Not as a place for sick people to get better and certainly not a place for women to give birth.

Basic health care needs were unable to be met due to lack of current knowledge regarding health and the environment. The hospitals were stuffy; Windows too high to reach and could not be opened; No heating, no plumbing, no lighting. Hospitals were dirty and unsanitary — linens were washed in rivers/lakes.

Renaissance: This era was filled with scientific and art-related advancements, but it did not have significant effects on the nursing profession. Nursing was still considered a poor person’s job, left for people who couldn’t find other means of making money.

Although considered lowly, many church going women began taking on nursing roles to help the dying and the sick to help nurture them. Some of these women came from influential or rich families, which began the very slow stepping stones for nursing to become a more acceptable job, though it took thousands of years to accomplish.

Between the Renaissance and the industrial era, Florence Nightingale came along, paving the stepping stones of nursing… We’ll go into more detail of this woman later on.

Industrial Era: Spanning the 18th and 19th centuries, the industrial era welcomed more mainstream hospital usage, including having women turn to hospitals to give birth in. Antiseptic methods are used to control the high maternal death rate – a technique of asepsis is found by Semmelweis, however, is not brought to the forefront until a few decades later when Florence Nightingale begins using it during the Crimean War.

The end of the Second World War

  • At the end of WWII, licensed practical nurses established their titles.
  • The World Health Organization defined health as “a state of complete physical, mental, and social well-being, and not merely the absence of disease and infirmity.”
  • Nursing became its own recognized body of knowledge & due to technological advances, nursing came into its own science.

Important People  and Events:

Semmelweis: First identified the need and used a method of antiseptic to control the high maternal death rates in hospitals. Prior, doctors would go from the morgue straight to delivering babies without washing their hands!

Marguerite d’Youville: Founded the Sisters of Charity — the Grey Nuns. A group of nurses in Canada who cared for the less fortunate and eventually took over Montreal’s only hospital. She was dubbed Canada’s only saint in 1999.

Jeanne Mance: Co-founded Montreal and the first hospital in Montreal. Awarded Canada’s Nursing Association’s highest honor.

Marie Rollet: The first lay woman to provide nursing care.

St. Catherines: Opens in 1874; The first school for LPNs. It is a one year program, influenced by the work of Florence Nightingale.

1914: Practical Nurses become respected members of the Canadian Nursing Association.

1931-2007: Practical nurses grow from 4,700 to 75,000.

1951: The Practical Nursing Act is passed; controlling the education, testing, and licensing of Practical Nurses in the province of BC.

1965: The Practical Nursing Act (PNA) takes effect, establishing a counsel of LPNs as the licensing body of Practical Nurses.

1986: The PNA is amended to include a disciplinary committee to oversee LPNS.

1991: The Ministry of Health welcomes the Council of LPNs in BC as a regulatory body.

1992-1994: The LPN’s code of ethics and standards of practice are established for LPNs in BC.

1996: LPNs are officially known as health professionals. The Council of LPNs in BC is designated by the Health Professions Act and its name is changed to the College of Licensed Practical Nurses of BC.

CLPNBC: College of Licensed Practical Nurses of British Columbia. This is the governing body for LPNs in BC. CLPNBC.ca

Florence Nightingale was a true pioneer because she advocated for the patients. Unlike past times, when only the illness was addressed, Florence introduced a holistic approach which is still used today. Rather than just treating the signs and symptoms, she treated the emotional, spiritual, and other non-quantitative or measurable components of the patient. A person isn’t merely a body. Thus, “Treat the patent rather than the illness.”

You are asked what impact you think the aging population, technological advancements and health care funding will effect the role of the practical nurse. This is a question for you to answer — there are no right or wrong answers 🙂


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